Laurie McCartney, President of NASM and AFAA

The National Academy of Sports Medicine

Personal training isn’t what it used to be, and that means bringing fitness certifications up to speed.

We caught up with Laurie McCartney, president of global fitness and wellness solutions for Ascend Learning, operator of fitness professional certifying boards NASM and AFAA. Laurie details how trends in holistic wellness have led to the need for new, evidence-based education for trainers, gyms, and their clients.

Offering a number of professional certifications, can you introduce Ascend Learning and NASM’s offerings/mission?

Laurie McCartney: Ascend Learning is the industry leader in providing online learning tools for building successful careers in three major fields: healthcare, safety and security, and (the segment that I oversee) fitness and wellness, which has set more than 1.4M people in over 100 countries on their path as fitness and wellness professionals.

Our family of brands in fitness and wellness includes National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), which has been the gold standard in training fitness and wellness professionals for over 35 years, and Athletics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), which literally wrote the book on group exercise and continues to lead the market in career-boosting instructor training and specializations.

We also have the best fitness training and education platform in the world with our ClubConnect brand, which provides onboarding and staff development education as well as training resources to over 9K health clubs, studios, and gyms.

On the international side, we have Active IQ, which designs state-of-the-art qualifications for the active leisure, learning, and well-being sector in the UK.

Ultimately, our mission is to provide world-class resources and tools to professionals, enthusiasts, and anyone who wants to transform lives, including their own.

The fitness & wellness credentialing space is competitive, how does NASM stand out?

LM: Something that sets us apart from other providers is our focus on delivering science- and evidence-based programs. Nobody else puts in the years of research, or the level of scrutiny, that we do in maintaining the effectiveness and integrity of our approach.

Over NASM’s 35 years in the space, we have built a worldwide community with millions of certified professionals around the globe.

This enables us to leverage an expansive network of researchers, academics, coaches, and practitioners—who have unparalleled expertise in all subjects related to health, fitness, wellness, performance, and sports medicine—in order to provide the most up-to-date knowledge in our programs and credentials.

Another point of differentiation—one that none of our competitors can come close to—is the fact that NASM is the official education partner for the professional trainer associations in the NBA, NHL, and MLS.

A testament to the unique quality of the NASM offering, every professional team across all major sports leagues in the US has at least one staff member carrying an NASM credential, and many of them are in senior leadership roles. As I like to say, if you can use our programs and methodologies to train elite athletes, then you can use them to train anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Beyond personal training or group fitness, how is NASM pursuing trends in holistic wellness?

LM: We are increasingly emphasizing the importance of incorporating holistic wellness concepts and learning into fitness professionals’ own lives and practices.

Fortunately, the general public is beginning to understand that there is more to wellness than physical activity and proper diet. It’s clear that people want to prioritize and take control of their health and wellness but perhaps don’t know where to find legitimate, science-backed education.

Our response is our new Certified Wellness Coach (CWC) program, which focuses on the five major pillars of wellness: movement, nutrition, mental and emotional well-being, recovery, and coaching.

The program isn’t just for fitness professionals; it’s for anyone looking to improve their well-being. And for fitness professionals looking to expand their services and increase income potential, our CWC program also includes a coaching section that allows participants to address self-awareness and mentorship with a focus on the mindset and personal challenges of their clients.

As digital fitness and nutrition platforms gain traction, how is NASM helping professionals build careers outside the traditional gym or clinic setting?

LM: When the pandemic started, NASM was able to pivot quickly and offer resources like an online COVID-19 Resource Guide, with relevant content and support on how trainers could continue working with their clients, even during a lockdown.

Allowing professionals the opportunity to offer services outside the traditional gym setting, we also fast-tracked the launch of our Virtual Coaching Specialization (VCS), which equips trainers with the skills, solutions, and strategies to build and operate a successful online coaching business.

Additionally, we launched our Home Gym Design (HGD) program, which provides trainers an A–Z guide for planning, designing, sourcing, and building out the ideal home gym for a variety of client populations.

More and more, apps are delivering personalized workouts, meal plans, and health advice. How will these developments impact industry professionals and NASM?

LM: The amount of resources we have access to nowadays is vast, but you have to be careful, especially when it comes to advice related to health, fitness, and wellness. For that reason, NASM developed its very own EDGE app to put the power of our evidence-based programming and proprietary methodologies in the palm of our professionals’ (and their clients’) hands.

This easy-to-use tool allows professionals to schedule and manage appointments with clients, perform assessments, run live, remote training sessions, and track everyone’s performance and results. It also enables the processing and collection of payments.

We have to always be willing to meet the consumer where they are in the world, and I think apps like EDGE will continue to strengthen the connections and interactions that industry professionals have with their clients.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers?

LM: Something we’re very excited about is the recent launch of our Physique and Bodybuilding Coach (PBC) program. This has been in development for many years, and we worked with over 30 of the leading experts in the bodybuilding and physique transformation industry.

The PBC program is, by far, the most state-of-the-art toolkit ever created for those seeking bodybuilding or physique transformation goals, and we’re already seeing great traction from a wide range of professionals and enthusiasts. Whether they are preparing for world-class competition or simply wanting to look great at their wedding, NASM’s PBC has everything they need.

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